Politicos who remove journalists from public events disrespect democracy

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Over the weekend our former colleague, Sandra Fish, was kicked out of the Colorado statewide GOP assembly for doing her job. Sandra works for the Colorado nonprofit news organization, the Colorado Sun, which has gotten crosswise with the chairman of Colorado’s Republican party for fair but hard-hitting journalism. Her ejection has generated national headlines

But before Sandra worked for the Colorado Sun, she worked for New Mexico In Depth from 2014 through 2017, using her formidable data analyzing skills to report on hard-to-get-at issues such as New Mexico’s less-than-ideal process for funding brick and mortar projects around the state, the flow of money in politics and the role of lobbyists in lawmaking. 

Sandra Fish

To our knowledge, she is the only reporter to have spent months rifling through contracts to determine how much lobbyists working for public institutions in New Mexico collected from their employers over a period of time: $7.2 million in 2014-15. Because of lax New Mexico’s transparency laws, Sandra couldn’t do the same rifling to see how much private-sector corporations spent on lobbyists, a lack of disclosure that obscures how much is really spent on lobbying in New Mexico. 

Nearly a decade later, that secrecy is still intact.

New Mexicans also can thank Sandra, in part, for the Legislature’s decision a few years ago to finally disclose how much each state lawmaker spends on brick-and-mortar projects. She broke the news in 2015 that state law prohibited disclosure of that information unless a state lawmaker consented to allowing the public to see how they individually spent public dollars. 

During her three years with us, Sandra’s reporting sometimes ruffled elected and public officials, some of whom complained. We found nothing of substance in the complaints because they were the kind that come with good, hard-hitting journalism. Yes, Sandra is hard-hitting but she’s also fair.

That’s why I was surprised this weekend to see the news that she’d been kicked out of the Colorado GOP assembly. Most public and elected officials I’ve encountered over decades of doing journalism understand the score: Good journalists inevitably will anger them by reporting on something they don’t want the public to know.

Apparently, the chairman of the Republican Party in Colorado isn’t as tough skinned as most public officials I’ve encountered. 

When political organizations such as the Colorado GOP remove journalists, the aroma you smell is fear of not being able to control the message. Journalists are not stenographers. They are there to report what they see and hear, not what the powerful tell them what they’re supposed to see and hear. 

As Sandra was quoted as saying in Milan Simonich’s column in the Santa Fe New Mexican this week, “My biggest concern in being removed is about our democracy. Political leaders, political candidates, only want their side of the story told.”


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